KEEPERS: 2020 Building Blocks—Catcher

Joey Bart (C, SF)

This is the first installment of our annual off-season series focused on helping keeper league and dynasty owners identify useful targets that may be available in the current off-season. Each week we examine a different position, looking for players (“pieces”) that have potential to be solid parts in the construction of a winning fantasy franchise. We group them under three general designations:

CORNERSTONES – Premium quality franchise difference-makers, essential to the foundation of a true dynasty juggernaut. These pieces are top priority acquisitions, either by draft or trade.

BUILDING BLOCKS – High quality players with potential to be solid elements of a winning core. Desirable pieces that should be targeted as part of the ongoing championship franchise building process.

SUPPORT PIECES – More interchangeable lower grade parts that may provide help in a specific category or offer a lower ceiling than more desirable foundation pieces.

Players are listed with 2020 season age and major league organization, along with a designation if left-handed hitter (*) or switch-hitter (#).

We will attempt to identify top building targets within the following criteria:

  • ​Will play majority of 2020 season at 25 years old or younger (25 as of July 1, 2020)
  • Earned less than $10 in standard 5x5 roto in 2019
  • Reasonably projected to be MLB-ready at some point during 2020 season (may extend time horizon for Cornerstones)

Please see the Organization Reports in our Scouting section for more detailed, team-by-team analysis on prospects discussed here. Also, from time to time there may be some slight differences between evaluations offered in this series and in our Organization Reports. Use that as your reminder that evaluations can differ, and that for each individual roster decision needs to factor in your specific team needs and goals. 

The catcher position has been increasingly devoid of significant offensive contributors in recent years, let alone difference-makers. Especially in two-catcher leagues, teams who manage to field a pair of non-negative-earning performers are often gaining an edge on the competition. Because catchers often develop later than other positions, as well as the general dearth of potential dynasty assets, we will extend the age requirement for this position two additional years to 27 years old.

 

CORNERSTONES

Joey Bart (23, SF) – The number-two overall selection in the 2018 amateur draft, Bart has quickly made his way up the minor league ranks with an excellent all-fields hitting approach. He finished the 2019 season by posting a .316/.368/.544 line in 22 games at Double-A and was off to a strong start in the Arizona Fall League when he suffered a fractured right thumb in his tenth game. A plus defensive catcher, Bart should be full-go for spring training and could very well be ready for the big leagues at some point in 2020. His biggest roadblocks would appear to be the health/performance of 33-year-old incumbent Buster Posey, as well as the degree to which the rebuilding Giants may be inclined to manipulate his service time. Deeper league dynasty owners will be well-served to acquire Bart as soon as possible.

Adley Rutschman# (22, BAL) – The number one overall selection in the 2019 amateur draft, Rutschman is unlikely to be considered for promotion to the big leagues until at least 2021, but he is talented enough that dynasty leaguers must begin consideration of getting him in the fold immediately. An excellent hitter who uses the whole field from both sides of the plate, Rutschman complements his offensive tools with defense that may be even better. He is undoubtedly a premium dynasty catching target. Unfortunately, the backward structure of MLB that incentivizes tanking for multiple years until rebuilding teams are “ready to compete” leaves Rutschman’s ETA for the blatantly-tanking Orioles total guesswork at this point.

 

BUILDING BLOCKS

Gary Sanchez (27 years old, NYY) – He bounced back from a miserable 2018 season and showed his signature power, but still failed to earn $10 due to subpar .232 batting average and injuries that limited him to only 106 games. A career-low 68-percent contact rate was a major factor in the low BA, though a “rebound” in to the low-70-percent-range is about the best that can be hoped for out of the free-swinging slugger, so BA should continue to be a drag going forward. The biggest concern of all, however, may be a balky groin that has disabled Sanchez several times over the past two years. His power is legit Cornerstone-caliber, but health concerns and the minimal help in other categories limit him to Building Block status. Dynasty resources may be better used elsewhere if the bidding gets too high.

Francisco Mejia# (24, SD) – Former phenom bounced around between the minors and the DL, limiting his 2019 major league production. Mejia posted an encouraging .305/.355/.511 line over 46 second-half games, even as he missed time with a strained oblique. With defensive specialist Austin Hedges his only competition, Mejia merits serious consideration as a post-hype sleeper.

 

SUPPORT PIECES

Will Smith (25, LA) – Took his slugging to another level once he began hitting the juiced-up MRB (Manfred Rabbit Ball). Smith slugged .603 over 62 games at triple-A before crushing nine long balls in his first 19 games after taking over as the Dodgers regular catcher in late July. Unfortunately, Smith proceeded to post a .139/.222/.222 line over his next 23 games. He is an asset behind the plate and should enter spring training as the favorite for the starting job, but any kind of a slow start could but him at risk for a return to the minors for more seasoning.

Sean Murphy (25, OAK) – Similar to Will Smith above, Murphy made a splash upon his initial opportunity in the big leagues, posting a .440/.481/1.080 line over his first eight games. But just like Smith, he quickly tailed off, finishing up with a .074/.219/.111 clip over his final 11 games. Nonetheless, Murphy’s strong defense and power potential have him as the presumptive starter behind the dish for Oakland as the calendar turns to 2020. One potential red flag to monitor is multiple surgeries on a troublesome left knee within the past year, with the latest coming immediately following the 2019 season.

Carson Kelly (25, ARI) – Got out from the shadow of ironman Yadier Molina with trade to Arizona and took advantage of his first extended big league opportunity. Showing an encouraging combination of power and patience as he split playing time with since departed Alex Avila, Kelly appears set for the lion’s share of work behind the plate for the Diamondbacks heading into 2020.

Danny Jansen (25, TOR) – A hot sleeper target in the shallow catching pool heading into 2019 drafts, Jansen was a massive disappointment, posting a miserable .207/.279/.360 line. Though he opened the season as the starter, by the time it ended, he was in a 3-way rotation with banjo-hitting Luke Maile and rookie Reese McGuire. Only McGuire remains, as Jansen should get a prime opportunity to rebound. He should come cheap on draft day and his strong 42-percent hard-hit rate combined with a respectable 77-percent contact rate offer seeds of hope.

Victor Caratini# (26, CHC) – As the backup to Willson Contreras on the Cubs, Caratini is not a viable mixed league option, but single-league fantasy competitors in two-catcher leagues could certainly do worse. A switch-hitter who showed good contact in the second half with emerging power, he also offers versatility to get his bat in the lineup at first base on occasion.

Andrew Knizner (24, STL) – A poor man’s Caratini, Knizner offers less power and a righty-only bat, but he may have more opportunity scripted into his future, as he appears to be heir apparent to 37-year old Yadier Molina. Knizner’s minor league track record features consistent contact with a good approach but only moderate power. He stands a reasonable chance of offering better-than-average production at catcher, but with limited upside.

Daulton Varsho* (23, ARI) – An intriguing five-category-type talent whose offensive profile belies both his position and his stocky appearance. Varsho offers an excellent all-fields approach with substantial power, complemented by good speed with excellent instincts of how to use it. Only some defensive limitations keep his status as a catcher in doubt. As a potential utility-type who could catch enough to maintain eligibility while playing enough at other positions to pile up some useful counting stats, Varsho is an intriguing name to monitor. An ankle injury suffered during the off-season may put him behind as spring training gets underway.

Jorge Alfaro (27, MIA) – Though a very pedestrian offensive performer, Alfaro’s status as the moribund Marlins starting backstop gives him definite value in the barren catcher landscape. One would think that his big-time raw power would shine with the MRB but an embarrassing 63-percent contact rate over 898 career at-bats has severely limited its impact. There are worse options for dynasty league catchers, but any hopes of Alfaro being a building block are rapidly fading.

Chance Sisco* (25, BAL) – Earned big league opportunity with hot month of May at Triple-A, but production failed to carry over after his promotion. Gradually lost playing time as he struggled to a .152/.295/.253 line over his final 31 games. Though he possesses power potential, Sisco’s awful 61-percent contact rate over 404 career MLB plate appearances urges caution, even with playing time seemingly there for the taking with the tanking Orioles.

Kiebert Ruiz# (21, LA) – Considered by many to be the top catching prospect in the game this time last year, Ruiz seemed to go backwards in 2019, as he posted a marginal .254/.329/.330 line while repeating Double-A. Nonetheless, he was promoted to Triple-A in late July, where he got off to a strong start hitting the MRB before a broken pinky prematurely ended his season. With Will Smith ahead of him and already in LA, Ruiz is only rosterable at this point in the deepest of dynasty formats.

 

DON'T FORGET ABOUT...

Tom Murphy (29, SEA) – The breakout for the slugging backstop that was long-anticipated in Colorado finally came to fruition in Seattle. Acquired by the Mariners to backup starter Omar Narvaez, Murphy’s .273/.324/.535 line with 18 home runs in 76 games impressed Seattle decision-makers to the point that they recently shipped Narvaez to Milwaukee. Murphy’s poor 64-percent career contact rate underscores the risk of fantasy leaguers counting on expansion of his 2019 breakout to coincide with an increase in playing time.

Travis d’Arnaud (31, ATL) – With his injury-riddled professional career seemingly derailed, d’Arnaud found new life with his third organization of 2019. He signed a two-year free agent deal with Atlanta in late November and is slated to split time with incumbent Tyler Flowers. With significant weak-side platoon splits, plus his lengthy injury rap sheet, d’Arnaud only merits second-catcher attention in single-league formats.

 


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.